Google’s N-Gram Viewer is a wonderful and under-appreciated thing: At the click of a mouse, it lets you search Google Books’ huge corpus of material for specific words and combinations of words. This N-Gram analysis, for example, maps the mention of ten different cities in every book written between 1800 and 2000, charting the wax and wane of famous metropolises in the popular consciousness.

While the data is culled from N-Gram, the visuals come courtesy of Edgard Barbosa, a Floridian graphic designer who posted the graphic on Behance this week. What do they convey? First, the obvious: That English-language books tend to feature English-language cities, like New York and London. But beyond that, things get more interesting. For example, Rome starts off strong—thanks to its strong hold on the Victorian-era imagination—and peters out in contemporary times. Meanwhile, Beijing and Mumbai are nearly absent (with the exception of a few blips during the peak of Britain’s colonial reign) from the 19th century, but explode over the past two or three decades.


“It was interesting to see how interest in cities are always constant, while differing from era to era,” comments Barbosa. “Also, there's much to be said on historical facts, and books written about cities.” Interesting though it is, it's only half the story: N-Gram also offers corpuses of books written in other languages, which means that some intrepid data nerd could do the same analysis for, say, Chinese literature. Go check out how your own hometown features in Google Books' 30 million-odd tomes here. [Ebook Friendly via The Atlantic Cities]